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Tyrion1991

Why were the Children unable to beat the First Men? Is magic useless?

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Posted (edited)

I was reading the World of Ice and Fire and Iam not sure I really get this.

George has conveyed to us the notion that magic has faded from the world but implied that in ages gone magic used to be more potent and dangerous. So, when the Children were at their height should be the apogee of that right? 

Well, we’re explicitly told that none of the children’s magic could save them. Humans were simply bigger and had bronze weapons. They easily wiped them out south of the wall.

So, people who can see the future, control the weather, warg into massive animals and have instant communication through Wyldwoods are beaten by Bronze Age tribes? Probably the best example is the breaking of the arm of Dorne to Essos. This magic is destructive, looks impressive and powerful; but it doesn’t change anything. It still comes down to one side being six foot tall and the other three foot tall.

But then George flips this around with the story of Long Night where the Children are essential to humanity beating the Others? How? If the magic was useless and bronze weapons could beat these supermages then why did they have so much trouble with the Others? Why does one sides magic barely inconvenience a disorganised group of Bronze Age tribes but the other is this existential threat.

I can’t decide where George is going with his magic. Is magic just useless or is it truly a powerful tool that could be an extremely useful asset to a faction that gains some mastery over it. Currently, magic seems more trouble than it’s worth and the Children’s story seems to highlight that. Basically if there had been more giants and they had a slightly higher IQ humanity would have had a very rough time of it.

Edited by Tyrion1991

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Posted (edited)

There are a couple of possible answers to this - keep in mind we really don't know at this point what happened back then.

First, you have to keep in mind that we are talking about centuries and millennia here. The conflict between the Children of the Forest and the First Men started a long time ago and continued for centuries and millennia.

On a symbolic level it is also quite clear that the First Men are vermin and pests in this context. There came a point when the First Men also actively tried to eradicate and destroy the Children, but it seems as if that in and of itself wasn't the only problem. The First Men just multiplied at a much faster rate than the Children, meaning they would eventually oust and supplant them whether they also actively tried to destroy them or not. I mean, the Children were, like most elvish people in fantasy series, long-lived but neither numerous nor particularly fertile. In addition, they never developed or cared about developing agriculture, meaning they must have needed rather large territories as hunter-gatherers to collect the resources they needed. Once the First Men essentially put them in ever more shrinking reservations their population may have dwindled even after the First Men had stopped killing them wherever they found them.

We see this happening after the Long Night when, by the time the Andals arrived, the Children had declined to the point that the First Men kings had trouble finding them - and that in a setting when the First Men and the Children lived, more or less, peacefully side by side (but Yandel cites an early Durran of the Stormlands and early Starks as people attacking the Children and taking territory from them, so things might be more complex here).

It also seems as the Children Bran meets in the cave in ADwD actually accepted that the humans of Westeros are eradicating them as a species. They made their peace with the fact that they are dying race.

But you certainly raise a rather important point - a single greenseer should have been able to hunt down and destroy tens of thousands of First Men in his lifetime, especially if he or she were to weaponize really dangerous animals. And it really seems as if the Children had more than just one greenseer back when they were in their prime.

This is why I assume that all proper greenseer are stationary - physically connected to the roots beneath a weirwood grove. And the way to deal with this rather formidable threat would have been to destroy all the weirwoods and to dig out and kill all the greenseers they could find. If the greenseers cannot run, then it is not that difficult to put them down - especially if the advantage of numbers is on your, the First Men, side.

Like King Tristifer IV who allegedly won 99 battles only be defeated in his hundredth battle, the greenseers of the Children may have won victories in many battles only to be gradually defeated as the centuries and millennia progressed. And once the First Men had figured out how to deal with the greenseers in principle the Children should have never been able to find a solution for that rather crucial weakness on their side.

But if we go with the idea that the Others are actually things created by (some of) the Children to be used to eradicate the First Men by turning them against themselves, then they actually came up with a solution to their vexing problem. Once the Others were there - and the First Men apparently didn't even know or understand that they were things created by the Children - they could essentially sit back, relax, and watch how their ancient enemy was eradicated. As creators of the Others the Children should also have known the weak spots of the Others, possibly even having means to control them, which would certainly have allowed them to help the Last Hero during the War for the Dawn (if that's actually what they did - we don't really know that at this point).

The crucial thing in the mystery of the Others is that it seems at this point as if the Others only showed up millennia or at least centuries after the Pact was made - the Long Night ended the Age of Heroes whereas the Pact between the Children and the First Men ended the Dawn Age. If the Others were created long after the Pact, and if they were made by (some of) the Children to eradicate the First Men, then chances are very high that the Pact did not mark the end of hostilities between First Men and Children. Instead, one assumes (as the post-Long Night violence against the Children done at the behest of the Storm Kings and the Starks indicate) that the short-lived vermin that were the First Men quickly forgot or ignored the Pact their ancestors had made with the Children decades, centuries, or millennia ago - sort of like European settles and the US government always forgot or broke whatever 'treaties' they had made with the indigenous peoples they had no intention to permanently share the land with.

Finally, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the wise men/leaders of the First Men did have sorcerers of their own. The legends of Garth the Green imply that there were magics and practices the First Men didn't learn from the Children. Not to mention that the First Men could also have used whatever magics and sorcery they learned from the Children against them.

Edited by Lord Varys

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All of above, but it also might be that the Children as a culture are not easily willing to fight. Look at this quote I found recently.

"Men would not be sad. Men would be wroth. Men would hate and swear a bloody vengeance. The singers sing sad songs, where men would fight and kill. " Bran III, ADWD.

 

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Another thing is that there is a price of using magic. For instance a greenseer had to "marry a tree" or (s)he would die very young.

Most spells have their own additional prices. Price of just calling home(?) or asking technical support seems to be that one had to burn testicles. Price of doing anything major seems to be even higher usually sacrificing people or at least their "life force".

So I suspect that price of magical warfare is simply too high to be useful in large scale.

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41 minutes ago, Loose Bolt said:

Another thing is that there is a price of using magic. For instance a greenseer had to "marry a tree" or (s)he would die very young.

Most spells have their own additional prices. Price of just calling home(?) or asking technical support seems to be that one had to burn testicles. Price of doing anything major seems to be even higher usually sacrificing people or at least their "life force".

So I suspect that price of magical warfare is simply too high to be useful in large scale.

 

But isn’t some magic sunk costs? Say warg seems to just happen and when Dany burns Miri she doesn’t need to keep topping it up. So the children should have already had their tree network in place.

For example they could warg into giants. Seems very clear work around for being 3 feet tall and wouldn’t require blood sacrifice.

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1 hour ago, Tyrion1991 said:

For example they could warg into giants.

No, they can't. Giants are not animals. It is impossible to warg into sentient beings, that have their own consciousness inside. When Varamyr Sixskins tried to warg into Thristle, her soul had easily pushed him out of her body, even though he was an experienced skinchanger, able to control six animals. Hodor is an exception, because he is mentally handicapped, that's why Bran is able to warg into him. Same as humans, giants have consciousness, thus warging into them is impossible.

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4 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

All of above, but it also might be that the Children as a culture are not easily willing to fight. Look at this quote I found recently.

"Men would not be sad. Men would be wroth. Men would hate and swear a bloody vengeance. The singers sing sad songs, where men would fight and kill. " Bran III, ADWD.

I think that should be read as an admission of defeat, of accepting the (now) inevitable that they would all die. After all, we do know that the Children once fought very fiercely and determined against the First Men, and, if they created the Others, they really took things very far.

Considering that Bran's Children definitely would be long to the (branch of the) Children which either regretted creating the Others or never approving of that particular move (meaning they were likely also part of those Children who once assisted the Last Hero, or agreed with the decisions of those Children) it must be a given that they made peace with the fact that they and their culture would have to go.

It is also one of the few hints indicating that the Children once may have been very wroth - that they may have hated and sworn bloody vengeance. Just a long time ago and not now, when Bran realizes what's going on, centuries and millennia too late.

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15 hours ago, Tyrion1991 said:

I was reading the World of Ice and Fire and Iam not sure I really get this.

George has conveyed to us the notion that magic has faded from the world but implied that in ages gone magic used to be more potent and dangerous. So, when the Children were at their height should be the apogee of that right? 

Well, we’re explicitly told that none of the children’s magic could save them. Humans were simply bigger and had bronze weapons. They easily wiped them out south of the wall.

So, people who can see the future, control the weather, warg into massive animals and have instant communication through Wyldwoods are beaten by Bronze Age tribes? Probably the best example is the breaking of the arm of Dorne to Essos. This magic is destructive, looks impressive and powerful; but it doesn’t change anything. It still comes down to one side being six foot tall and the other three foot tall.

But then George flips this around with the story of Long Night where the Children are essential to humanity beating the Others? How? If the magic was useless and bronze weapons could beat these supermages then why did they have so much trouble with the Others? Why does one sides magic barely inconvenience a disorganised group of Bronze Age tribes but the other is this existential threat.

I can’t decide where George is going with his magic. Is magic just useless or is it truly a powerful tool that could be an extremely useful asset to a faction that gains some mastery over it. Currently, magic seems more trouble than it’s worth and the Children’s story seems to highlight that. Basically if there had been more giants and they had a slightly higher IQ humanity would have had a very rough time of it.

Like @Lord Varys said about vermin. Despite our superior brains and advanced technology, cockroaches are still everywhere. They've been here far long than humans, and will likely remain long after we're gone.

CotF magic could win a few battles, and even temporary disrupt the migration, but ultimately numbers win.

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Take Europe today. If a newly arrived demographic group consistently has a population growth rate that is higher than the original group, then over time, the new group will become the most prevalent and therefore the dominant group. And that's without any overt conflict between the two groups. Extrapolate that over a period of centuries, and one might one day ask what happened to the previous rulers of Europe?

Now, in the case of the First Men and the Children, the difference in growth rate was probably an order of magnitude greater than the differences currently observed in Europe. And this continued over hundreds of years. With outright genocidal conflict thrown into the mix as well. The Children might have defeated the First Men thousands of times, but each time they lost 1 warrior and the First Men lost 1 warrior, the loss had 10 times the impact on the Children's population.

This compounded over time to result in the eradication of the Children.

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They were smaller and less physical.  The first men had horses and bronze.  The children were fewer and slow to reproduce.  Me thinks they waited too late.  They’re too deliberating like Doran.  Action and decisiveness are sometimes needed.  Their peaceful disposition, ala Naath, made them vulnerable.

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The reproduction rate and military technologies of the First Men probably lent to the defeat of the CotF, but it's not as if the First Men didn't have any a magic. Legends of Garth the Green certainly imply the did, and how is Dawn, the sword of House Dayne explained? According to the history presented in the books, the First Men weren't able to produce steel.

How did the founder of House Dayne, during the Dawn Age when the First Men and the CotF were warring against each other, manage to use meteorite iron to forge a blade with steel as tough as Valyrian Steel, which is assumed to have started production thousands of years later, and lighter to boot? Magic, probably.

If the Children of the Forest had access to both the weirwood.net via the greenseers, warging, and magic powerful enough to destroy a land bridge with what most presume to be earthquakes, what chance did the First Men have with bronze weapons and horses? The sort of magic that the Children are said to have displayed should have been powerful enough to use to cull the First Men's populations with relative ease.

Unless, the First Men had magic that allowed them to fight the CotF at their [CotF] own game. And if the First Men had the magic able to do that, then they would have certainly been able to defeat the Children, especially if they were cutting down the weirwood trees.

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